Gardening Articles: Health :: Cooking

Jewel-Toned Jams

by Sharon Kramis

In the middle of July, when the berry season is in full force, I prefer to eat as many of them fresh as I can. But they come fast and don't last long, so I always find myself putting up jams for next winter. Even in summer's heat, stirring the bubbling fruit, pouring it into jars, and standing back to survey the finished product are rewarding activities, and I can congratulate myself on a job well done. The best part, though, is spreading my jam on a piece of warm buttered toast or a homemade scone.

For many cooks, jam making holds a certain amount of intimidation. However, watching my mother, Elsie Mahan, make jam helped me overcome this fear. Her jams are consistently bright-colored and delicious, capturing the essence of fresh fruit and summer's bounty. Next time you have guests over for brunch, include an assortment of homemade jams in your menu. They also make welcome gifts through the year.

Our recipes use a short-boil method with liquid pectin because it offers greater ease of preparation than powdered pectin does, and is more foolproof than the traditional method using just fruit and sugar. Also, you don't have to stir the boiling jam frequently if you use liquid pectin. Look for pectin in the grocery store.

Note: If instructions on the pectin package differ from the ones here, use them instead: Each brand's method is slightly different, and it's important to follow the package exactly. Never double the recipe; the amounts of fruit, sugar, and pectin called for determine jelling. In addition, cooking times increase, the pan can scorch, and it's about as quick to make successive batches.

If you wish to use just fruit and sugar (the proportion of fruit to sugar is higher, and the fruit flavor is much stronger than with pectin), consult a good basic cookbook, such as The Joy of Cooking (Simon & Schuster, New York, 1995, $26).

The most important piece of equipment for making jam is a heavy-bottomed stainless steel or copper-clad pan large enough (an 8-quart capacity at least) to cook the fruit and berries without boiling over.

First, Sterilize the Jars

To sterilize the jars, put the jars, lids (use only new ones), and screw bands into a large pan of water and bring to a boil. (Or follow manufacturer's instructions for sterilization.) Boil them for 10 minutes, then keep them in the hot water until you're ready to use them. Or, sterilize the jars and tops in the dishwasher-just be sure to use them while they're still hot.

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